The purpose of the flight review required by Title 14 of the Code of Federal Regulations (14 CFR) 61.56 is to provide for a regular evaluation of pilot skills and aeronautical knowledge. In effect, the flight review is the aeronautical equivalent of a regular medical checkup and ongoing health improvement program. Like a physical exam, a flight review may have certain “standard” features (e.g., review of specific regulations and maneuvers). However, just as the physician should tailor the exam and follow-up to the individual’s characteristics and needs, the commercial pilot conducting the flight review should tailor both the flight review and any follow-up plan for training and proficiency to each pilot’s skill, experience, aircraft, and personal flying goals. As I write this article the term “instructor” is the commercial pilot giving the flight review, while “pilot” is the pilot receiving the flight review.

Step 1: Preparation

The first step in preparation is to manage the expectations of the flight review. A flight review is not a fun flight with an instructor and discussion over regulations while at dinner with the crew. A flight review also isn’t supposed to be spending exactly one hour reviewing 14 CFR Part 91 operating rules, before heading out for an exactly one-hour long flight. In this instance, the pilot departs with a fresh flight review endorsement and, on the basis of the minimum two hours required in 14 CFR 61.56, can legally operate for the next two years. This kind of flight review may be adequate for some pilots, but for others – especially those who do not fly on a regular basis – it is not. To serve the aviation safety purpose for which it was intended, the flight review must be far more than an exercise in watching the clock and checking the box.

14 CFR 61.56 states that the person giving the flight review has the discretion to determine the maneuvers and procedures necessary for the pilot to demonstrate “safe exercise of the privileges of the pilot certificate.” It is thus a proficiency-based exercise, and it is up to the instructor to determine how much time and what type of instruction is required to ensure that the pilot has the necessary knowledge and skills for safe operation. Managing pilot expectations is key to ensuring that you don’t later feel pressured to conduct a “minimum time” flight review for someone whose aeronautical skills are rusty.

A flight review should be tailored to the pilot and include a review of the necessary knowledge and skills needed to be proficient for safe operation.

Step 2: Ground Review

The regulations (14 CFR 61.56) specify only that the ground portion of the flight review must include “a review of the current general operating and flight rules of Part 91.” Since most balloon pilots do not read rules on a regular basis (unless they are having trouble falling asleep), this review is an important way to refresh the pilot’s knowledge of information critical to aviation safety, as well as to ensure that he or she stays up to date on changes since the last flight review. You might also organize the rules as they relate to the flight plan for the flight portion of the review. The important thing is to put the rules and operating procedures into a context that is relevant and meaningful to the pilot, as opposed to the sequential approach that encourages rote memorization rather than higher levels of understanding.

In the series in the BFA’s BALLOONING Journal, I’ve discussed the PAVE model in pre-flight decision making and flight training. The following table shows an example of the ground portion of a flight review conducted under the PAVE model:






   Recent flight experience (61.57)




   Authority (91.3)


   ATC instructions (91.123)


   Preflight action (91.103)




   Careless and reckless operation (91.13)


   Dropping objects (91.15)


   Alcohol or drugs (91.17)


   Supplemental oxygen (91.211)


   Fitness for flight (AIM Chapter 8, Section 1)






   Basic (91.7)


   Flight manual, markings, placards (91.9)

   Certifications required (91.203)


   Instrument & equipment requirements (91.205)



   Responsibility (91.403)


   Maintenance required (91.405)


   Maintenance records (91.417)


   Operation after maintenance (91.407)




   Annual, airworthiness directives, 100-hour (91.409)







   Minimum safe altitudes (91.119, 91.117)

   Right of way (91.113)


   Formation (91.111)


   Types of airspace (AIM 3)


      Controlled airspace (AIM 3-2; 91.135, 91.131, 91.130, 91.129)

      Class G airspace (AIM 3-3)


      Special use (AIM 3-4; 91.133, 91.137, 91.141, 91.143, 91.145)

   Emergency air traffic rules (91.139; AIM 5-6)

Air traffic control & procedures:


   Services (AIM 4-1)


   Radio communications (AIM 4-2 & pilot/controller glossary)

   Clearances (AIM 4-4)


   Procedures (AIM 5)




   Markings (AIM Chapter 2, section 3)


   Operations (AIM 4-3; 91.126, 91.125)


   Traffic patterns (91.126) – Even good for balloonists to know!



   Meteorology (AIM 7-1, balloon weather sources)


Personal minimums checklist



Risk management (3-P model)


PAVE and IMSAFE checklists


Preflight risk matrix


PTS special emphasis items




Step 3: Flight Activities

Many flight reviews consist almost exclusively of basic flying skills and multiple takeoffs and landings. These maneuvers can give you a very good snapshot of the pilot’s “physical” skills. They are also good for the pilot, who gets a safe opportunity to practice proficiency maneuvers that he or she may not have performed since the last flight review. This alone, however, will tell you little about the pilot’s “mental” knowledge of the pilot’s ability to make safe and appropriate decisions in real-world flying (ADM). Therefore, you need to structure the exercise to give you a clear picture of the pilot’s skills with respect to each area.

“Physical” Skills: Does the pilot maintain control of the balloon when faced with a major distraction? For a satisfactory flight review, the pilot should be able to perform all maneuvers in accordance with the Practical Test Standards (PTS) for the pilot certificate that he or she holds.

“Mental” Skills: Does the pilot demonstrate knowledge and proficiency in using the balloon system, instruments, radios, GPS and ipad apps (if used)? Many balloon pilots use handheld GPS navigators or moving map software apps and programs; you will want to see whether the pilot can safely and appropriately operate the devices that will be used when you are not on board to monitor and serve as the ultimate safety net.

Aeronautical Decision-Making (ADM) Skills: Give the pilot multiple opportunities to make decisions. Asking questions about those decisions is an excellent way to get the information you need to evaluate ADM skills, including risk management. For example, ask the pilot to explain why the landing site selected is a suitable, safe and appropriate choice. What are the possible hazards, and what can the pilot do to mitigate them? Be alert to the pilot’s information and automation management skills as well. For example, does the pilot utilize their GPS or moving map programs and apps to check their speed and landing location to make informed landing decisions? If the pilot does not fly with GPS or moving map applications, how does the pilot determine their speed to exercise ADM in the landing process?

The PTS is a fantastic resource for planning the flight portion of a flight review. You can use the private or commercial PTS depending on the grade of certificate the pilot receiving the flight review holds and check off the areas once performed satisfactorily.


A. Certificates and Documents

B. Weather Information

C. Flight Planning

D. National Airspace System

E. Performance and Limitations

F. Operations of Systems

G. Aeromedical Factors


A. Launch Site Selection

B. Crew Briefing and Preparation

C. Layout and Assembly

D. Preflight Inspection

E. Inflation

F. Basket/Gondola Management

G. Pre-launch Check


Radio Communications and ATC Light Signals


A. Normal Launch

B. Launch Over Obstacle

C. Approach to Landing

D. Normal Landing

E. High-wind Landing


A. Ascents

B. Altitude control (Level Flight)

C. Descents

D. Contour Flying

E. Obstruction Clearance

F. Tethering

G. Winter Flying

H. Mountain Flying




A. Systems and Equipment Malfunctions

B. Emergency Equipment and Survival Gear

C. Water Landing

D. Thermal Flight


A. Recovery

B. Deflation and Packing

C. Refueling


Step 4: Post flight Debriefing

Rather than starting the post flight briefing with a laundry list of areas for improvement, ask the pilot to verbally replay the flight for you. Listen for areas where your perceptions are different and explore why they don’t match. This approach gives the pilot a chance to validate his or her own perceptions, and it gives you critical insight into his or her judgment abilities. You can also debrief through reconstruction. This encourages the pilot to learn by identifying the “would’a could’a should’a” elements of the flight – that is, the key things that he or she would have, could have, or should have done differently. You can also debrief through reflection. Insights come from investing perceptions and experiences with meaning, which in turn requires reflection on these events. For example:  What was the most important thing you learned today?  What part of the session was easiest for you? What part was hardest? Did anything make you uncomfortable? If so, when did it occur? How would you assess your performance and your decisions? Did you perform in accordance with the Practical Test Standards? Lastly, you can use the redirect method for the debrief to help the pilot relate lessons learned in this flight to other experiences, and consider how they might help in future flights. How does this experience relate to previous flights? What might you do to mitigate a similar risk in a future flight? Which aspects of this experience might apply to future flights, and how? What personal minimums should you establish, and what additional proficiency flying and training might be useful?

Step 5: “Aeronautical Health” Maintenance & Improvement

If the pilot did not perform well enough for you to endorse him or her for satisfactory completion of the flight review, use the PTS as the objective standard to discuss areas needing improvement, as well as areas where the pilot performed well. Offer a practical course of action – ground training, flight training, or both – to help him or her get back up to standards. If possible, offer to schedule the next session right then.

If the pilot’s performance on both ground and flight portions was satisfactory, you can complete the flight review simply by endorsing the pilot’s logbook. I certify that [First name, MI, Last name], [grade of pilot certificate], [certificate number], has satisfactorily completed a flight review consisting of a minimum one hour flight training and one hour ground training covering the requirements of § 61.56(a) on [date] signed by the instructor with grade of pilot certificate and certificate number.

Offer the pilot an opportunity to develop a personalized aeronautical health maintenance and improvement plan. Such a plan should include consideration of the following elements:

  • Personal Minimums Checklist: One of the most important concepts to convey in the flight review is that safe pilots understand the difference between what is “legal” in terms of the regulations, and what is “smart” in terms of pilot experience and proficiency. For this reason, assistance in completing a Personal Minimums Checklist tailored to the pilot’s individual circumstances is perhaps the single most important “takeaway” item you can offer.
  • Personal Proficiency Practice Plan: Flying just for fun is one of the most wonderful benefits of being a pilot, but many pilots would appreciate your help in developing a plan for maintaining and improving basic aeronautical skills.
  • Training Plan: Discuss and schedule any additional training the pilot may need to achieve individual flying goals. For example, the pilot’s goal might be to develop the competence and confidence needed to fly a long jump, dawn patrol, venture into a new flying area, or to lower personal minimums in one or more areas. Another goal might be completion of another phase in the FAA’s Pilot Proficiency (“Wings”) Program.

The flight review is vital link in the general aviation safety chain. As a person authorized to conduct this review, you play a critical role in ensuring that it is a meaningful and effective tool for maintaining and enhancing balloon safety.

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